5 Essentials for Successful Travel to Thailand

So you’re finally visiting Thailand, huh? Thailand is one of the world’s most popular travel destinations, and for plenty of good reasons. It has amazing beaches, a huge, exciting city, gorgeous mountains, some of the world’s finest food and a fun way of life that makes spending time here an amazing experience.

It also has a reputation as a bit of a backpacker destination — the type of wild, off-the-beaten-track country where you need a gigantic backpack, camping roll, cooking set and other life-in-the-wilderness type accessories to survive.

Sorry to burst your bubble, but for the most part Thailand is a pretty well developed country with the infrastructure and services for an easy stay, even if you don’t bring your jumbo sized backpack. So leave the huge hiking bag at home and instead bring the five essentials listed below when you visit Thailand:

A small backpack or suitcase

There is absolutely no need to bring a gigantic backpack with you to Thailand. Using a huge backpack not only makes you weighed down with stuff you’ll never use — it also makes you an obvious mark for touts and scammers.

It’s far better to blend in with a small backpack (under 25 liters) or a suitcase. If you plan to spend most of your time in Bangkok, Phuket, Chiang Mai or Koh Samui, the backpack is a waste of time. If you’re visiting any of the smaller islands, stick with a compact bag you can comfortably carry around without destroying your spine.

Good sunglasses

Thailand is hot and sunny, so pack a pair of sunglasses. Why are sunglasses such an important thing to bring? Because high quality, brand name sunglasses cost a fortune in Thailand due to import taxes, while the cheap sunglasses that you can buy on the beach here break in five seconds.

Before you leave, pick up a pair of decent Polaroid or Ray-Ban sunglasses for your trip, especially if you’re visiting Southern Thailand. Your eyes will thank you instead of hating you after spending the entire day squinting against the tropical sky.

Some semi-formal clothes

Sounds silly, right? After all, who dresses up to go to Thailand? While we’re not talking about a three-piece suit, it’s worth bringing at least one nice shirt and pair of pants or a nice dress to Thailand. The reason for this is that many of Thailand’s nicer bars and restaurants have a fairly strict dress code, at least compared to the West.

Show up in fisherman’s pants and sandals to most nice hotel bars on Phuket or in Bangkok and you’ll be politely turned away. Bringing some nice-ish clothes doesn’t mean you need to wear them, but it expands your options and gives you access to a much better range of nightlife and dining venues.

Also, casual summer clothes

Thailand is hot. Like, really hot. If you dress for a Northern European winter, you will cook. Bring some light t-shirts that breathe easily, especially if you plan on spending any time on the islands. If you prefer a long sleeved shirt, avoid cotton in favor of lighter, more breathable linen instead.

Likewise, a few pairs of shorts will help you a lot throughout your time in Thailand. It’s best to pack two to three versions of everything, as you’ll need a second (or third) pair of shorts when your first two are drying after a long hike and an unexpected swim at one of the world’s most amazing beaches.

Your smartphone

Seriously, bring your smartphone. Thailand has excellent mobile coverage and it’s easy to get a signal pretty much anywhere in the country, even on some of the most remote islands. If your phone is unlocked and accepts a sim card from anywhere, it will be a godsend while you’re in Thailand.

All of the major Thai phone networks — DTAC, AIS and True — offer tourist plans that are prepaid and provide access to the country’s mobile network. Having your phone will make it much easier to look up reviews and recommendations, saving you from having to cling to your Lonely Planet guidebook the whole time you’re here.

3 Khao San Road Hotels That Don’t Suck

If you’re visiting Thailand for the first time and have a strict budget, chances are pretty good you’ll end up on Khao San Road. Khao San is Bangkok’s main backpacker accommodation hub, with some of the cheapest hotels in the city — and some of the worst.

Although it has a reputation for cheap, low quality hotels, there are some surprisingly good places to stay around Khao San Road. Below, we’ve listed our three favorite Khao San Road hotels that don’t suck and are worth staying in if you’re visiting Bangkok and want to save your money to spend in North Thailand or on the islands.

#1: Dang Derm Hotel

The Dang Derm Hotel is one of the biggest hotels on Khao San Road, and with its bright yellow exterior it’s very hard to miss. Unlike most of Khao San’s hotels, it’s kept clean and aimed at mid-budget travelers instead of people looking for the cheapest rooms in the world.

Is it luxurious? Well, actually, it kind of is. It’s not the Ritz Carlton, but the Dang Derm has nice rooms that are clean and comfortable, some with balconies that face onto Khao San Road itself. With a rooftop pool, it’s also a good place to relax during the day, when you aren’t partying or visiting temples, of course.

#2: D&D Inn Bangkok

Another big property on Khao San Road (and another with a big rooftop pool), the D&D Inn is a local institution. It’s recently been renovated, so its once dated rooms feel much more comfortable and modern, and its rooftop pool is one of the best places on Khao San Road to hang out and escape the heat.

The D&D Inn is cheaper than the Dang Derm Hotel, making it a good option for budget travelers. The rooms are spacious enough and have comfortable beds with soft sheets and free Wi-Fi, giving it pretty much everything you could ask for in a budget hotel.

#3: Fortville Guesthouse Bangkok

This one is a bit of a cheat answer, since it technically isn’t located on Khao San Road. Fortville Guesthouse is a boutique guesthouse on Phrasumen Road, which is about five to 10 minutes from Khao San on foot. It’s a small but clean and modern guesthouse with a variety of cheap and decent rooms.

What separates Fortville Guesthouse from other guesthouses on Khao San is that it’s really clean. In an area that isn’t renowned for its hygiene (look at any of the disgusting budget hotels in and around Khao San for proof) Fortville Guesthouse is a welcome, well maintained alternative.

Bangkok’s Best Sky Bars

Bangkok’s hot and sunny weather makes it one of the world’s best cities for sky bars. Rainy season aside, the weather in Bangkok is warm all year, making it easy to enjoy the sunset without worrying about being rained on.

Add a great skyline and a population that loves to drink and you’ve got the perfect city for rooftop drinks and dining. Bangkok has many sky bars, ranging from cheap hangouts to ultra-expensive sky bars featured in famous movies.

Feel like a drink with a view? Below, we’ve cataloged three of Bangkok’s best sky bars, from iconic favorites to cheap and simple sky bars that are priced more in line with the city’s other nightlife options.

Sky Bar at Lebua

Best for: being seen.

Famous for its role in The Hangover II, Sky Bar at Lebua is a ritzy rooftop bar on top of the absolutely massive State Tower building in Silom. It’s arguably Bangkok’s fanciest rooftop bar, with extremely ornate decor and prices to match.

Sky Bar at Lebua has a great view of the Chao Phraya River, but it’s a bit too far from Bangkok’s main business district to have a perfect city view. You can still enjoy a good look over the city, but you aren’t right in the buildings like you are at other sky bars.

Drinks at Sky Bar at Lebua are very expensive (think 400-500 baht for a cocktail) but are strong and taste great. The bar has a moderately strict dress code and won’t let in men in shorts or open shoes.

Is it Bangkok’s best sky bar? If you like to be seen and be surrounded by tourists and hi-so locals, it’s a good choice. However, Sky Bar at Lebua’s stupid photo policy (you are only allowed to take photos in a small section of the bar) loses it a few points.

Vertigo and Moon Bar

Best for: taking your family.

Vertigo is a rooftop restaurant atop the Banyan Tree Hotel on Sathorn Road. Moon Bar, the adjoining bar, has the same view and a selection of seats and tables for guests to relax at and enjoy the truly stunning view of Bangkok.

Of all Bangkok’s sky bars, Vertigo has arguably the best view. It’s right in the city, so you can see plenty of other skyscrapers and interesting buildings. It’s also close to Lumpini Park, giving you a view over the city’s biggest central park. You can catch a glimpse of the river in the distance, but if you want to see the Chao Phraya it’s better to go to Lebua.

Drinks at Vertigo and Moon Bar are expensive, but not as ridiculous as Lebua. The whole place also has a much less pretentious and more welcoming attitude, making it more of a place to hang out and enjoy yourself than a fashionable spot to be seen.

Cloud 47

Best for: taking your friends.

Another Silom area rooftop bar, Cloud 47 is MUCH more laid back and casual than the two hotel bars listed above. This bar is located on top of the United Centre building on Silom Road, with simple terrace tables and a live band (or DJ on certain nights) making it feel more like a nightclub in the sky than a high-end rooftop bar.

Is it fancy? Nope. Is it fun? Definitely. The view isn’t quite as dramatic as Bangkok’s other rooftop bars, but it offers an incredible view of the city, cheap drinks and an exciting party atmosphere that makes it a more exciting option than the two hotel bars listed above.

Exploring Ayutthaya: Thailand’s Ancient Capital

Feel like getting out of Bangkok but don’t want to spend all day on a bus (or hours on a plane)? One of Thailand’s most interesting historical destinations is just over an hour from Bangkok by van, and it’s packed with interesting things to do.

Ayutthaya is one of Thailand’s oldest and most historically significant cities. The city was founded in 1350 by King U Thong for a rather unusual reason: he wanted to escape an outbreak of smallpox (at the time an incredibly serious health threat) in the nearby province of Lop Buri.

The city was founded and it became the capital of the Kingdom of Ayutthaya (also known as Siam). Within 250 years, the small city had grown into a fairly big one, with a population of more than 300,000 people. This may not sound that impressive today, but in the 17th century it made Ayutthaya one of the world’s largest and most populated cities.

Ayutthaya fell apart in 1767, when Burmese invaders destroyed most of the city. Today, it’s an amazing relic of Thailand’s deeply interesting history and a major tourist attraction for both Thais and people from abroad.

The best place to visit in Ayutthaya is Ayutthaya Historical Park — a UNESCO World Heritage Site that covers more of the old city’s ruins. Good spots to visit include Wat ChaiwatthanaramWat Kudi Dao, and Wat Mahathat, which provide an interesting look into the Siam and Ayutthaya period of Thailand’s history.

Bring a camera (or a smartphone with a good camera), since you’ll want to take plenty of photos of the cool Indiana Jones-style temples.

It’s worth remembering that Ayutthaya is an important historical area, and that dressing like you’re going to the beach probably isn’t a good idea. Wear long pants and a shirt that covers your shoulders, or else you might be turned away at some of the temples due to the city’s somewhat conservative dress code.

If you’d like to escape from Bangkok’s seemingly endless expanse of concrete and spend a day exploring a side of Thailand that many people don’t see (Ayutthaya is nowhere near as popular as Chiang Mai or the islands) then visiting Ayutthaya is a good choice. Getting there is easy — just take the minivan from the public station at Victory Monument.